The role of trade unions in the Post 2015 development agenda

The Special Advisor of the UN Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, Ms. Amina Mohammed, aims to involve unions in the planning and implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda objectives. In this interview with the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV), she expresses her views on the ILO decent work agenda and the role of international labour standards and social dialogue.

Article | 03 June 2013
The ILO’s vision is centred on decent work – that is employment, social protection, labour rights and social dialogue. Do you share the ILO’s vision on the importance of including decent work in the Post-2015 development agenda?

Yes, absolutely. For the Secretary-General, decent work is at the heart of these objectives. People are what this next development agenda is going to be about; it is about creating a universal agenda for all people. We are lucky that the ILO has worked on the Decent Work Agenda for many years, bringing critical themes to the forefront- Human Rights being one of them. It is not a question of somebody else’s luxury or charity. This is the right to make a decent living through decent employment opportunities.

Given the current job environment, the quality of employment has become a major consideration for us today. We have seen economies and inequalities grow leaving many people behind. To say that jobs are the panacea for this, requires further clarification: what is meant by that? We need to make sure that we do not make the same mistakes as we have done in the past. I think first and foremost, we did not emphasize the need for an ‘enabling environment that protected our workers’, in the same way that we, perhaps, do today. The fact that we now have a framework that puts pressure on us to do just that is very helpful. There are standards that we have signed up to. We did not have all of these before.

In the past, it was thought to be a good thing that, production is happening in other parts of the world and giving an opportunity for the poor to gain access to jobs, but nobody really questioned what kind of jobs. By the time we went there to find out what was happening in these sweatshops - where buildings collapsed on people - we were able to see and understand that these things are not right and completely unacceptable. A ‘zero tolerance’ approach is what we need here. It is unfortunate that some tragedies have to happen for us to begin to implementing a decent work approach. For the next development agenda, we will we learn from these mistakes.

What in your opinion should be the role of trade unions in the Post-2015 consultations?

The Secretary-General of UN, Ban Ki-Moon, said right from the beginning, that these consultations are an open conversation that includes everyone and trade unions are very big players in this process. At the end of the day, if we want to follow a jobs’ agenda and make sure people of all ages have access to decent work, trade unions are going to be major players beyond the consultation process. It is going to be about the quality of that work. There is huge muscle that the trade unions bring into countries where parliaments and governments do listen. It would be good to see a better coordination of their efforts. Several questions needs to be clarified such as: what are the agendas? What is a country’s vision? And how can we hold the government’s feet to the fire? How can we define roles and responsibilities of each of the players in a way in which gets us results on the ground?

Now, all of us want the same thing and if we say it, then we should mean it. We need to hold governments and parliaments accountable for what the people have asked for - what they say and they will deliver. In this regard, Trade unions have a big role to play in this process, in terms of how they engage. Each country is different and one size does not fit all. An interesting challenge would be how we can find new partners to execute these agenda in the next couple of years.

Do you think that trade unions will occupy the same role during the implementation of the post-2015 agenda as during the negotiation period?

I think, first, they have to draw on Trade unions’ expertise and their experience on the ground to inform the post-2015 agenda. What we are putting forward as our priorities should form the basis in the negotiations of the next set of goals. And that, I think, will go a long way. That means speaking at the country level. It means making the connection between grassroots and the international level; trade unions have access to both and they should use those networks to reinforce the quality of inputs into the agenda.

The next role is to bring about pressure, because, at the end of the day, member States will decide on this agenda. They will do the negotiation. I think it is the pressure that ‘we the people bring upon them’, that will get us the best outcome in the areas of importance. I think that today, governments at home and governments abroad, are listening. As they say, ‘woe betide you if you do not.’

At the country level, is there room for ILO Labour standards and social dialogue in the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

I think both are extremely important. If we do not have standards, we cannot measure compliance and so people fall off the radar. We need standards and dialogue. Without dialogue, there will be no peace and sustainability. That is the best way forward. Dialogue needs to be encouraged and unions have been noted for that. We need to spread the largesse of dialogue.

Today, one of the backdrops that we are up against is conflict and violence that comes in all its different manifestations. We need to find a way around that via dialogue. It is the best way to resolve conflict in a sustainable manner.

For more information, please contact Claude Akpokavie, Senior Adviser, at